Poison slick to reach Russian city 'in hours'

A toxic slick floating down a river from China for more than a month was due to reach the Russian city of Khabarovsk within hours and experts were making last-minute preparations to deal with the poison, officials said on Tuesday.

Khabarovsk residents have been stocking up on drinking water and making other arrangements for weeks and the city was calm as the benzene slick floated to within around 15km of the city limits, local officials and media reported.

Officials said the first traces of benzene were expected to enter the city in the early hours of Wednesday and the slick, spread over 190km of the Amur river above Khabarovsk, would take several days to pass through the city.

About 3 000 Chinese workers backed by 200 Russian trucks and two heavy transport helicopters were racing to complete construction of a temporary dam on the Chinese side of the Amur, which follows the Chinese-Russian border for part of its length.

Officials said it would be finished in time to attenuate the flow of the slick.

Another dam built on the Russian side of the river was completed last week.

Local officials reiterated that they were planning to seek compensation from China for the poison slick, caused by a factory explosion in China on November 13.

“We are spending money constantly,” Viktor Ishayev, governor of the Khabarovsk region, said late on Monday. He said public money spent in recent weeks on rush construction of the Russian dam alone had exceeded 60-million rubles ($2-million).

“People are working on this every day. So of course all of this money will be added up in order to demand compensation,” he said.

A special regional committee set up last month to coordinate the response to the slick said measurements were being taken every three hours at various points on the Amur river west of Khabarovsk and so far no benzene had been detected in the city itself.

Authorities promised to keep the public informed regularly on the danger of the slick.

The Amur river splits into numerous smaller branches before it reaches Khabarovsk and predictions on the levels of benzene concentrations that could potentially enter the city—and on the consequences this might have—have ranged widely.

Most of the information made public in recent weeks on the tracking and intensity of the slick suggests that the consequences for Khabarovsk will be negligible, but officials said they were ready for limited shutdowns of water treatment facilities if


Benzene is a known carcinogen used as an industrial solvent and a component of gasoline.
Chinese authorities said around 100 tonnes of benzene were dumped into the Songhua river that feeds into the Amur following a blast at a chemical factory in the Chinese city of Harbin.

Public water supplies in Harbin were shut-off completely for several days as the poison slick flowed through the city. - Sapa-AFP